A broad category of viruses, including the herpes and calici virus, fall under the umbrella term of feline upper respiratory tract disease commonly known as the “cat flu”. Vaccines neither prevent nor help URIs. Ditto antibiotics, which are not needed in the absence of a secondary bacterial infection.
Similar to the human flu, typical symptoms in the early stages are sneezing, discharge from the eyes and nose, inflammation of the lining of the eyes also known as conjunctivitis, and loss of appetite mostly due to diminished sense of smell. Sometimes all or most of these symptoms are accompanied by mouth and eye ulcers as well as fever, malaise, and excessive salivation.
As with the human flu, feline respiratory illnesses are caused by viruses and should be treated seriously. While a healthy cat can get over these symptoms in a few days, a cat with a weak immune system can develop a secondary infection known as Upper Respiratory Infections (URIs).
Left untreated, URIs can progress quite quickly, and can even be fatal in a cat with a severely compromised immune system. It is safest to assume the worst and support your cat’s body with gentle therapies to help her recover from a virus.
While antibiotics might be needed if your cat develops an infection, routine use of an antibiotic without confirmation of an infection is not a good idea. It can even lead to antibiotic resistance in the future, so use antibiotics judiciously.
Cats with flu-like symptoms should be immediately isolated from other cats in the household to prevent transmission as the incubation period for upper respiratory viruses can be anywhere from 3-5 days to 2 weeks. .
Use precautions such as washing your hands frequently in warm water for thirty seconds after handling infected cats. After your cat has recovered from her upper respiratory illness, wash her bedding in hot water.
Holistic options for URIs
Flush the nose with a buffered saline solution (warm water, salt, and a pinch of baking soda). Salt is antibacterial, and in addition you can add a pinch of neem (herb) powder in case you are concerned about a fungus or bacterium. Goldenseal will do as well e.g. if you have capsules, you can use the powder inside. If you don't have neem, make up a solution with goldenseal powder, warm water, baking soda, and sea salt.
Until they start making teeny kitty-sized neti pots, you can use a small dropper to administer Colloidal Silver (CS), or dip a cotton ball in the warm saline water solution and hold next to nose.
Tip from Carol R on my list - "Use the "Little noses" kids saline spray bottle because the tip is really tiny for babies. It works great for kitties." You can make up any solution, and reuse the spray bottle this way.
If you think your cat might have inhaled some dust from litter or something along those lines, put some of the saline mix in your hand, and hold it close to the nose in case so your cat sniffs it and snorts some in the process. It's okay if s/he sneezes a few times forcefully following this as it might help get out litter or whatever gunk is in there.
After all this, if your cat is still talking to you, apply a dab of sesame oil (very healing) on his nose leather if s/he'll let you. You can even try to sneak some into the nose as much as one can get stuff into a kitty's nose.
Wash the eyes with warm eye compresses and wipe away any discharges by soaking gauze or a small washcloth in warm water. Colloidal Silver (CS) can be used undiluted in the eyes and nose. Look for concentrations under 50 parts per million (ppm) from a reputable manufacturer e.g. those listed here:
I have had great results with Source Naturals' 30ppm
(Most effective if implemented at the very first signs of a “cold”)
Herbs: (daily): If the only symptom is sneezing with clear discharge, one might not need more than the first three. For more severe symptoms and/or more chronic cases, a cat might need all of these and DMG (NOW capsules) as well.
- Stinging Nettles – 1 capsule per meal mixed with food
- Elderberry (Sambucus nigra L) without fruit and other artificial flavorings – 1 capsule or 1/8 teaspoon of a non-alcohol extract such as Nature's Answer.
- Olive Leaf extract – 1-2 capsules (note: this tastes bitter, so mixing in food doesn't go over well
- Andrographis Paniculata – an ayurvedic herb sold under many names not limited to Andrographis such as Kan Jang – 1 pill
- Propolis tincture – 2 drops with the alcohol boiled off in 1 Tbsp warm water (might still have a strong taste even after diluting)
- Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE) – 1-2 pills if you suspect the illness is likely to turn into an infection or in the very early stages of an infection. Avoid the liquid which is extremely bitter and can burn mucous membranes.
- L-Lysine* – 500mg for up to a week, then 250mg maintenance dose
- Lactoferrin - 250mg
- Bovine colostrum – particularly effective in the case of orphaned kittens
- Colloidal Silver 10 or 30 ppm - 1/2 teaspoon 2-3x a day for a week as one would use an antibiotic, then stop or taper down to 1 droppeful for a few days.
*Unfortunately, cats that recover from the herpes and calici virus tend to become carriers and “shed” the virus throughout their life particularly in times of stress. If your cat has a flare-up of symptoms, 500mg of the amino acid L-Lysine works very effectively. Cats need the amino acid arginine, and since lysine and arginine compete with each other, do not exceed a maintenance dose of 250mg on a long-term basis.
If your cat only has occasional symptoms, give L-Lysine only when needed in the most conservative dose – 250mg and increase to 500mg only for short periods of time. A very large % of cats have been exposed to the herpes virus, and on my list over the years we've found lysine helps all cats with URI symptoms even if not officially diagnosed with herpes.
It's difficult to tell someone what remedy to give because it depends on the cat's specific symptoms. For example, one would need to know - is the nose stuffed up as well as runny, what is the color and consistency of discharge, do the eyes water as well or not, and if so, are they burning and acrid (redness of eyes and margins of lids if this is the case) vs bland discharge, is there loss of sense of smell, etc. All that helps narrow down the remedy because there are over 100 remedies in most Repertories for just sneezing.
A raw diet is the best prevention as it helps build a strong immune system. Common sense precautions in the event of exposure are a must of course. If you have a cattery or a large multi-cat household, you might want to keep the feline URI 30C nosode on hand. Exposed cats can also get 1 dropper of CS, 1 Nettle capsule, and 250mg Lysine daily for a few days to keep them from getting sick.
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